Trinity students in the J-term Dance Performance Studio are preparing for a spring concert led by three choreographers with Hartford roots. The course and concert are distinguished by the mix of students and choreographers collaborating. College dance departments often bring in guest choreographers, but this experience is unique because of the artists’ ties to the local community. “Their connection to our city and our site is part of why we want to have them here. We want to use this guest artist relationship as a way to cultivate artists in our city and to build stronger connections for our students to the place where they live,” explains Rebecca Pappas, Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance and the J-term course instructor.
The concert consists of six pieces created by the choreographers. Each choreographer will present one student piece and one piece with professional artists. Pappas, who grew up in Manchester and attended the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, is one of the choreographers. Arien Wilkerson and Ginette Christie are the two guest artist choreographers. Wilkerson grew up in Hartford, also attended the Great Hartford Academy of the Arts, and was based in Hartford as a professional artist for many years. They have an upcoming interactive sculpture and performance project set to take place in fall 2022 at a decommissioned elementary school in the North End. Christie grew up and lives in the Hartford area and has worked with Studio 860, the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz, and other arts projects in the city.
The choreographers engaged with Trinity students who had widely varying levels of dance training, because the J-term course had no prerequisites. Pappas was nervous about how the levels of experience would come together in the concert, but she has been delighted by how the students have shown up for the course and rehearsals. “They’ve come in with so much enthusiasm, so much joy,” she says.
The students arrive early, practice their pieces on the weekends, help create the choreography, and have taken responsibility for sustaining a supportive environment in the studio, all while rehearsing six hours a day, five days a week in the compressed J-term course format. “They are just getting to dance all day every day. It’s the best thing,” says Pappas. “It’s very much what a real professional rehearsal process would be like.” Student dancer CJ Donohoe ‘22 says that the intensive environment of the J-term course allows the students “to learn so much faster. We’re learning skills that are accumulating and getting better each day.”
The incorporation of Hartford artists into the spring dance concert is part of an effort to continue the work of supporting and highlighting Hartford area artists that Pappas began through Performing Hartford, a fall 2020 and spring 2021 virtual course and public performance. In Performing Hartford, local artists presented their work to students through virtual studio visits. The students engaged with the artists on Zoom, while the public was invited to watch the performances and question and answer sessions on Facebook Live.
“Both the fall concert put on with Jasmin Agosto ‘10 and Sage Seeker Productions and the spring concert are ways of taking the spirit of the virtual Performing Hartford project into the live performance space,” says Pappas. Donohoe adds, “Carrying on from Rebecca’s Performing Hartford class is an expansion of our community ties in Hartford, a way of coming back to those relationships, expanding on them, and partnering in different ways.”
Engaging with local artists to put on a performance offers mutual benefits for students and artists. Students have the chance to learn from and perform alongside professional dancers. Pappas describes this as “a different version of Community Learning, inviting the community in to dance alongside the students. To dance with professional artists from your community is very much a way of learning from them.”
The course and concert are also an opportunity for the choreographers to work on developing their own projects. It can be difficult for artists to find places to present their work with assistance for lighting and costume design, studio space, and other production elements. This partnership provides the choreographers with studio space and production assistance to develop their own professional work. Wilkerson is planning to bring the student piece back to be performed in their current home base, Philadelphia. “The students are sketching out something that is going to go out and live in the world,” says Pappas.
On-Site: A Performing Hartford event will take place on February 11th and February 12th at 7:30 pm at the Goodwin Theater at Austin Arts Center. The performance is ticketed, free, general admission. Attendees must wear masks and and show Trinity IDs or an alternate ID and proof of vaccination. For more information and tickets, click here.
In addition to the performance, a common honor panel the same week will feature all three choreographers. “Bodies as Archive: A Choreographic Discussion,” and will take place Thursday, February 10th, 12:15 pm, via Zoom.
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